Monday, August 18, 2008

Racing - Fit is a Relative Thing

A while ago I did a post about how someone's ideal position changes over time, and how it's hard to nail down your current "best position". Although I used to be in a position to influence quite a number of riders' positions, that pretty much ended after the late 90s. Recently, this year, I stepped into the controversial fitting ring and put my money where my mouth was - I fit a couple riders.

One, Young Rider, did okay right after our fitting session, but a relatively horrific accident ended his season. Plus, to be fair, he was so new to the whole thing that it was hard to quantify any position change's benefits. New racers improve by huge margins, usually despite some incorrect training or position or whatever, but the simple fact of riding will improve a non-rider's riding ability pretty quickly. So I really can't take credit for any of his hard earned accomplishments.

After this slight set back (when YR crashed) I sort of stopped thinking about fit and stuff. Although the actual fit session doesn't take a lot of time, traveling to and from such fitting sessions does. With the gas prices, my former full-time cycling status, and a looming house purchase, it didn't seem like traveling all over the state to fit whoever would make sense.

SOC is a friend though, and, significantly, Mrs. SOC is a friend of the missus. So any coincidental races usually have us traveling in time to watch SOC (or staying late to do so), and we try and combine things with a dinner or something.

Now, for a slight tangent, a long, long time ago someone told me never to offer advice. Wait for the person to ask for it. Offering advice can be seen as obnoxious, overbearing, presumptuous, and a whole lot of other negative things.

Worse, if the advice is incorrect, the advisor loses all authority. Offering advice, my friend told me, is a right. It's an earned right. And you build that right, and that authority, by offering only good advice over many, many years.

I guess it's like trust. It's so hard to build up, so easy to break, and virtually impossible to restore. Offering advice is like that but there's an added element of knowledge, of experience.

With bike racing, there is a lot of unwritten knowledge, a lot of experience out there, and a lot of people who have neither and are desperate for either. New and relatively new racers are like sponges, absorbing everything around them. Problem is distinguishing between good and bad, and initially at least it's very hard to separate the two.

Unfortunately this leads to riders getting bad advice, or perhaps advice not particularly suited for them.

So, anyway, that tangent is a long way of saying something else. When I see someone with an iffy position on their bike, or one that doesn't seem to handle their bike very well, I don't say anything. I used to have to hold my tongue, when I felt like I knew everything, but now that I realize that I don't know that much, it's much easier to keep my mouth shut.


Anyway, when I first saw SOC race, I wasn't happy with his position. But since I had no idea of his position's history, nor of any potential unusual physiological needs or problems, I didn't think too much about it.

Then, perhaps a year later, at a Tuesday night race, he asked me about his position.

Coincidentally I'd been watching the ebb and flow of the race, trying to get a feel for one of the very few new courses I've done in the last ten years. Since SOC was in there, I used him as one of my reference points. And that naturally had me studying his position.

I felt like Roger Legeay in the first Tour du Pont, tsk-tsking away at his GC leading rider, Atle Kvasvol (sp?), as Atle rode himself out of the lead in the final time trial. I watched SOC ride and wanted to reach out and start adjusting his bike right then and there.

After the race we powwowed a bit and, at some point, he asked me what I thought about his position. He felt "cramped" as he put it. In other words, he was asking for my advice.

Well now.

I went out on a limb. I told him that, yeah, I'd actually studied his position on the bike when he raced, and yeah, I thought I might be able to tweak it a bit.

I had him get some stems - since he had a 10 cm stem I asked him to find a 11, 12, and 13 cm if possible. I had 13 cm stems but with the wrong clamp diameter so that was out. We could raise his seat and I really wanted to move his seat forward. Yeah, yeah, it's a crit thing, but SOC is a crit kind of guy so it would be fine.

I met up with him, sat him on the trainer, and had him pedal a few pedal strokes. All my Tuesday Night studying came rushing back.

I steeled him for some massive changes and then proceeded to remove 2.5 cm of spacers, stick on a 12 cm stem (+2 cm), keeping it flatter (it was a +/- 10 degree stem), cranked his seat up almost 2 cm, and moved his saddle forward 1 cm.

Another person, a long time ago, told me that when you make adjustments (in this case to a race car engine) you make adjustments to the extremes, see what each extreme does, then narrow down the range until the car is good. We didn't find too many horsepower on the engine but it was fun winding up the thing to 8500 rpms to try anyway, changing various things between each howling run.

With SOC there was no dyno, no ear muffs, no Webers, but I wanted to see what the most radical change would do. So I made those changes.

And it looked.... normal.

Since it was so radical I took pictures of the original position with my cell phone because, if I screwed everything up, I wanted to be able to return him to his original position. At worst he'd be back to where he was.

SOC looked pretty skeptical with such radical changes, but he also had that glint in his eye when he climbed back on the bike. He thought it still fit relatively well but it was obviously a different creature.

My front-wheel-heavy fitting style really showed its hand when he got on the bike on his driveway. He didn't get 10 feet on the bike when he commented on the immensely heavy feeling steering the bike had suddenly sprouted. Yes, I told him, the long stem turns the bar more like a windshield wiper than a steering wheel, and your position places more weight on the bars, so your slow steering will be heavier, more awkward. But at speed, I said, it would be much more stable. After a few swoops he readily agreed.

We didn't have the right stem cap for the carbon steerer fork (we didn't cut it so the inside of the steerer, where the stem clamped, was no longer supported from the inside) so the stem wasn't on very tight. Well, tight enough to ride, but not so tight that it would crimp the fork. We still sprinted for a speed limit sign, but otherwise we took it pretty easy.

We went on what ended up being a flat 10 or 12 mile ride. Nothing really spectacular except that nothing was wrong with SOC. With such a radical position change, the fact that he was okay could be considered somwhat spectacular.

So, how did the new position work out?

Well, let's see.

On the next Tuesday Night race, he won.

The Tuesday Night series took a week off, but he returned to the next one.

He won.

Not only that, he also hung in with the P1234s till the end (second race, immediately follows the first one), the first time he did so.

Fine. Those are "just" Tuesday Night training races. So he went to a "real" race. Fall River, MA.

And he podiumed in the Cat 4 race.


Chalk one up on the "plus" side of advice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Go SOC and Aki fitting!

After some tinkering with my new 56cm frame, I've lowered the saddle to BB to 76cm from close to 79cm since I haven't ridden in a while.

I also went from a 100mm stem flipped up to a 130mm stem flipped down. My reason for the swap was just to see how it felt and I thought it would 'reduce' the weight on my hands since they felt a little funny. The change blew me away.

First and foremost, I had so much more cockpit length! I could move around without fear of my knees hitting the bar. In addition, I can stretch my back out better and I did a 13 mile ride the other day with no major back issues that couldn't be solved by stretching (I've been stretching a lot as well).


I did have some annoyances on my left knee, and I think it's time to raise the saddle 1cm and see where that lands me since it's anterior-ish pain.

-Young Rider